Much Better—Thanks for Asking (Chinese Medicine Dept.)

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Three days ago I mentioned that, in the slough of the normal mid-winter phlegm-fest, I'd decided to look for relief to .... magic Chinese "Yin Chiao" herbal pills, as below.

Thumbnail image for ChinesePills.png

I am happy to report that I have survived (a) the cold and (b) the pills. Several reactions below.

From a student of history:

>>Mr. Fallows, Are you aware that Bruce Lee (yes, that Bruce Lee) died from an allergic reaction to Chinese medicine taken for a headache?<<

From a college classmate, now a big-shot medical authority, and himself from a Chinese family background:

>>Infectious diseases are something that I know something about, and I advise against taking anything like this.

Nontraditional remedies sold in health food stores and similar places this country are not regulated by the FDA and may contain potentially harmful adulterants (eg, a toxic enantiomer of tryptophan caused problems several years back; many products are spiked with anabolic steroids and/or stimulants). Products from China are even riskier, in my opinion. Remember the melamine-containing baby formula that killed many infants just a few years ago? [Yes! We were looking suspiciously at the milk we'd bought in Chinese supermarkets at the time.]

Viral infections get better by themselves, so the benefits of any proposed remedy cannot be assessed reliably except in the context of controlled experiments (ie, placebo-controlled clinical trials). Even the best available remedies (eg, molecularly-engineered neuramindase inhibitors osteltamvir (Tamiflu) and zanamavir (Relenza) reduce the duration of influenza symptoms in healthy people by less than 1 day. The Pharmaceutical industry has spent many tens of millions of dollars looking for effective treatments for other respiratory viral illnesses (eg, common colds), all without success.<<

Both of those notes arrived shortly after I'd washed down another handful of the pills. Some "look on the brighter side" messages, from others who have taken the pills and lived, after the jump.

From a reader in Arizona:

>>Years ago I had an acupuncturist who was a big fan of Yin Chao pills. In those days (late '80s, early '90s) they came with an instruction sheet that proclaimed Yin Chao to be (and I swear I'm not making this up - I saved a copy and have it front of me) "efficacious to Spanish Grippe and mumps" and recommended it when "one is liable to infetion of clods" (sic). Do contemporary Yin Chao pills (the boxes, by the way, look exactly the same as they did back then) have a less memorable instruction sheet? [Sadly, no "clods" to be found.]<<

From a reader with a Chinese family name:

>>I have taken the same brand of pills you displayed throughout my childhood some 30 years ago, and I have survived. (My parents continue to take them to this day, eschewing free Canadian health care and prescription drugs.) So it is quite likely that you will survive them as well, but as with most Chinese medicines, the effect is likely to be slow.<<

And from a reader with the family name of Cohen:

>>What's with the Chinese medicine? You never heard of chicken soup??? Even western medical "science" admits it has benefits, though they ignore it since they can't find a way to put it in a pill and monetize it - yet. (Ask your doctor if Dr. Tyson's miracle chicken pills are right for you.)

I've had several experiences with cupping, as a child. When I had a chest cold, my Russian grandfather would appear with his cupping kit and administer the bahnkes (pronounced bonk us). The kit consisted of an old black leather briefcase filled with many shot glasses, alcohol and cotton swabs, all arranged meticulously. It was a sight I dreaded because the procedure was very painful. I don't remember any benefits.

I've also had many acupuncture sessions for migraine, and it was simply miraculous. One episode was stopped in 20 minutes after suffering for two days. In fact, years after my last treatment, my migraines are much less frequent. I think your choice of practitioners makes a difference, though. Mine was an MD (internist) from Pakistan. A good man. Insurance didn't cover acupuncture, so I created and maintained a web site for him.<<

Thanks to all -- and to my friends who originally offered me the Yin Chiao pills.

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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